My wife and I vacationed recently. HAVE I TOLD YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE VACATION? Sorry, I’m not screaming AT you…just TO you out of excitement. Yesterday, we made it back from a 2-week hiatus at the Florida Gulf Coast and then a couple’s cruise.
Now, let me tell you one story that sticks out most clearly in my mind. You’re reading this thinking…I don’t want to hear about the Caribbean, or, Brian’s encounters with sharks, but I promise this is that “other” experience abroad. Just follow along. It goes like this…
We arrived at Port Canaveral on July 4th (mid-afternoon) to check-in at the Radisson. I stand in-line and await my turn. There’s an Asian American man of medium build wrestling with a couple of youngsters (I assume they are his), and he’s sweating profusely. The attendant helps him check-in, and he departs with the anxious Lilliputians in tow.
I check us into the hotel. We rest. We eat Subway. Nothing too glamorous here. (Are you still with me?)
We awake on July 5th, after having slept a restful, fireworks bombarded night. I check us out of the Radisson. We are shuttled to Port Canaveral and our new home, a big ship.
It’s ginormous, my wife says. It’s magnificent, I say. The embarkation goes smoothly. We set sail at 5pmish EST. We dine at 6pm. The ship is like a city. You forget you’re moving, plowing towards Caribbean-filled air at 21 nautical knots.
Then, I spot the same Asian American man wrestling with two elderly folks at the Schooner Bar on deck 4. Where have the two younger rapscallions gone? I wonder. He’s yapping at the two elderly folks, and I know he’s trying to get to dinner just like we are. It’s a big ship, I tell myself again. Plenty of room to not be disturbed. 15 stories. C’mon. Maybe I should just introduce myself and make it less weird? I don’t, but move into the dining hall and feast on salmon.
Day 2–a day at sea.
We lounge on the top deck, my wife and I. I plant my face in a waterfall of cascading agua and threaten to not remove my head until we arrive in Haiti. Leah humors me, says “You’ll drown.”
Again, I see the man with the two young kids sitting across from us on the 11th floor, the sunbathing deck. Here, I also see the two elderly folks with him. At the Solarium bar, I see him order a drink. Still, it’s gone too far for introductions. I chalk it up as “we just happen to travel in the same circles” and laugh it off.
Have you ever wondered how you and someone else could literally travel in the same circles? Even at sea on a boat that’s colossal in size?
Day 3–Labadee, Haiti. We dock. We swim on a beach. The same Asian American man walks in front of our chairs 7-10 times in the course of our 2 hours there. I kid you not!
Day 4–Falmouth, Jamaica. We dock. Leah shops. I shop. We board the boat quickly. Jamaica isn’t a place to linger, unless you have a shore excursion. (I do not see the man, the kids, or the grandparents, I assume are his.)
Day 5–Cozumel, Mexico. We dock. The family leaves the ship right in front of us. We see them in the shops. I spot them walking past Carl’s Jr. (Yes, that’s the same franchise as Hardee’s, but with a different name. And, yes. There’s a random one in Mexico. And, yes again. They do serve the Loaded Omelet Biscuit in Mexico as well.) Leah says innocently, “Where have we seen them before?”
I remain silent. Shocked that this phenomenon has happened and equally so that no one else is noticing it but me. Does God want me to talk to this man or what? Wow!
Then, Day 6–day at sea. We see him, his family. It’s gone too far to strike up a conversation at this point. On a ship with 3,000+ guests there’s no way to fathom how I’d strike up a conversation at this point without seeming touched. It would go something like, “So, I’ve seen you. I know, you’ve seen me. Where are you from?”
And silence would follow. He just wants to enjoy his vacation. I’m enjoying mine, I say to myself. Just let sleeping dogs lie.
Day 7 arrives–sadly. The debarkation. We are one of the few EARLY ones that choose to lug our bags off before the maddening crowd awakes. I spot a trio of dolphins in Port Canaveral. Leah says, “There must be a lot of fish nearby.” I agree. Then, the same man with his family marches past me in the line, and he’s sweating again. The kids are a bit calmer at 6:30am–maybe just grumpy now. The grandparents are stoically staring out at the sea. The soon-forgotten trip is in everyone’s mind.
But, I don’t forget anything yet, because we are suddenly shuttled back to the Radisson parking lot. Leah offers to drive, and we take a different road northwest towards Chattanooga. This one offers countless toll roads. We stop 5+ times and shell out the extravagant payments that keep Florida highways looking so pristine. We try to make it around Disney, Orlando, the mice infestation. We succeed. And, when we’ve finally struck highways with numbers we recognize, Leah exhales and decides to stop at a Dunkin Donuts. When we exit, I run to the restroom like one of those mad children from earlier. Leah follows behind me. The ladies room is unoccupied. We recognize a sign on the men’s room which reads “Please knock before entering…Door doesn’t lock!” She laughs at me and ducks into the women’s room. I hesitantly knock on the door, where the wood is off-colored, because so many other fists have knocked before. I wait. No answer. I call out, “Anybody in there?” Nothing. So, I throw open the door and…
Who do you think should be squatting there?
Yep. You guessed it! The same man from our previous jaunt across the southwestern Caribbean. The same man of 9 days previously! The two wild children were in the lobby with the grandparents, I guessed. It was just he and I. I said, “Oh, I’m ssss-so–ssorry!” and slammed the door shut on his bewildered face.
He mumbled, “Aaaaghhh!” and tried to block his face from view. I shut the door so quickly, his face hadn’t registered with me yet. I was too focused on the embarrassment from seeing another grown man indisposed. But, the seconds ticked by as the door remained closed. I heard a flush. I thought about the previous 9 days.
“No way?!” I mutter under my breath, stifling a laugh.
A lady behind me says, “Don’t you just wish you could just clear those images from your head?”
She was really funny. We both cracked up, but I tried to keep my voice down, because he was literally on the other side of the door. My doppelganger of sorts. We traveled the exact same circles and now we were in a random Dunkin bathroom in southern Georgia at 10am or so after all of our time together…and I still didn’t know his name.
He exited and laughed nervously with us.
I said, “I’m sorry about that.”
He waves it off with a smile, says, “The sign clearly reads that the lock doesn’t work. It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault,” and he laughs again.
I think I should say, “Hey. I know you from somewhere,” but I know it’ll open a can of awkward worms. Over a week’s worth.
He doesn’t admit our connection either, but marches to the front, orders, and collects his family.
What if we lived in the same exact city and didn’t know it? Pretty odd, huh? How many people have the same circles and just don’t know it? Maybe it takes a 9-day voyage to realize it? I still don’t know his or his family’s name. But, I imagine they live right here in southeastern TN alongside me.
We made it back to our apartment last night, and I still have an odd mix of vertigo and disorientation going on inside my head. The realization that this man and I were so similar is unnerving. He’s out there, and he’s busy. I can only imagine that if we ever have children, and we go on another trip like this, and my folks come with us, I’ll be sweating and running around exactly like he was.
I just hope I’m not trying to use a Dunkin Donuts’ bathroom without a lock and laughing off the intruders as they enter my brief bit of solitude.